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Hyperion Records

CDA67640 - Regnart: Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae & other sacred music
Fire (1566) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: February 2007
Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria
Produced by Stephen Rice
Engineered by Markus Wallner
Release date: August 2007
Total duration: 60 minutes 19 seconds


'The polyphony of Jacob Regnart deserves a disc to itself, and this well-constructed programme is an excellent advocate for his varied and inventive music. With a direct, definite and bright-edged tone Cinquecento's six individuals combine to create a distinctive consort sound … an admirably released and forward singing style. While this forthright approach is exciting, they know well when to rein it in, as they do in the sinuous phrases of the Kyrie' (Choir & Organ)

'The repertory is glorious, important and little known; the sextet's vocal technique is superb, in solo performance as well as in ensemble, and the disc's production values are superb' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Even among the plethora of unjustly neglected 16-century polyphonists currently emerging into the limelight, Regnart stands out as a composer of uncommon talent … the motet Lamentabatur Jacob, whose bleak opening, spare textures and dark chromaticisms plumb the depths of despair, makes a particularly striking impression' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The Vienna-based Cinquecento's full-throated yet supple performance perfectly captures the Mass's joyful mood, with its soaring lines, delectable passages of sinuous polyphony and moments of striking text-expression … its ringing, crisply articulated performances, aided by the magnificent sound engineering in a reverberant church acoustic, are no less powerful and brilliant. The group's blend and balance, illuminated by the firm voices of the two countertenors, are near perfect while preserving each voice's individual character. Above all, it is the intelligence of these performances that is striking … Cinquecento's superb performances, together with producer Stephen Rice's informative booklet commentary, make this an ideal introduction to the music of a still little-heard but important composer of the sixteenth century' (International Record Review)

'The performances by the six male voices of Cinquecento are exemplary in their matching of vocal lines, and in the singers' ability to characterise every idea without ever losing the sense of the overall musical shape' (The Guardian)

'The grave beauty of Regnart's sacred music deserves more friends. The six male voices of Cinquecento, from five European countries, project the Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae and various motets with a clean, forthright delivery, enhanced by a resonant church acoustic. You feel that they've been singing for centuries' (The Times)

'All performers of vocal polyphony can learn from this group … the singing is exemplary: such connection between breath, chest voice and line is rare; the sound is compelling because it is soloistic and collegiate at the same time: ex pluribus unum. The recording is superbly engineered, allowing each voice to run clear within often thick, sinewy textures. Few recordings of polyphony equal the detail and warmth of this recorded sound, which is sheerly beautiful in itself' (Early Music)

'The first thing that impresses you is the beauty and richness of the sound. Cinquecento is multicultural, its six members (all men) coming from Austria, Belgium, England, Germany and Switzerland, but the timbres of the voices, while distinctive, are beautifully blended. The often sterile quality of some English, all-male, one-voice-to-a-part ensembles, like the Orlando Consort, is thankfully absent. This is Cinquecento’s second recording for Hyperion, and is every bit as fine as its first ('Music for the Court of Maximilian II' – CDA67579). The music here is all by Jacob Regnart (c1540-1599), and the Hapsburg connection remains intact: Regnart also worked for the emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II, as well as the Archduke Ferdinand. Regnart's compositional style is typically late-Renaissance, though perhaps more conservative than Orlandus Lassus's. The recoding begins and ends with two superb motets written in honour of Jahannes Trautson and Maximilian II respectively; the central work is the parody mass for six voices Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae. Six sacred pieces follow. Cinquecento lavish as much care and attention to detail on the word-painting as Regnart did, whether it be rhythmic, melodic, harmonic or in terms of texture. The meaning of the first verse (on the words 'gloria magna tuae') rings out majestically, while the second verse starts gently but builds almost imperceptibly to a climax on the final gorgeous chord. In the same verse, there's also an example of a subtle awareness of timbre produced by different sounds with the crowded sibilants in the line 'ut sis Eois notus et Hesperiis'. Thus the precedent is set for the rest of the disc. The Missa is very fine, with much use of antiphony and contrasts between polyphonic and chordal textures, as was the norm. The Kyrie is sung with crispness and dignity, while the 'Qui tollis' of the Gloria is full of a sweet expressivity. In the Gloria, Cinquecento imbues the 'Et incarnatus' with a tremendous sense of mystery; the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, shot through with peals of bells, are likewise treated with great sensitivity to the import of the words. The remaining works are likewise superb, both from the point of view of the music and its performance. Exsultent iusti is joyful yet restrained, while Regnart’s ambiguous setting of Psalm 42 (43):5, Quare tristis es, anima mea? is suitably tense and searching. Also of note is the dark solemnity of Lamentabatur Jacob. The spacious 6-voice Ut vigilum densa silvam cingente corona, which ends the disc, is made to blaze brightly. The generous … acoustic of the Pernegg Monastery seems perfect for an ensemble of this size, judging by the recording, which is up to Hyperion’s typically high standards. Recording producer Stephen Rice’s booklet note is equally excellent' (

'This CD itself consists of two state motets, six sacred works, and the centrepiece of the disc, the Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae. The combined effect of this wonderful, timeless music and Cinquecento's brilliant performances can only be described as therapeutic. Sound-wise, with the help of a perfect acoustic setting … the six voices of Cinquecento have produced a recording of seamless, perfectly tuned and harmonically rich vocal music. The soundstage is panoramic and deep, and each voice has an almost three-dimensional place in the mix. It's like surround sound but with just two speakers, but sounds perfectly natural. Listening to recordings like this is something everyone would benefit from—it's like musical time-travel for anyone who wants it. Buy some' (

'Cinquecento nous fait découvrir cet art raffiné, constamment lyrique et personnel, d'une qualité mélodique mémorable. On reste saisi devant les trouvailles sonores qui parsèment les œuvres: on songe aux savoureuses dissonances de 'Et descendit de coelis' de la messe ou aux poignantes inflexions de Quare tristis es … l'ensemble réussit à transformer cette fragilité en avantage dès lors que l'affect de déploration est solicité, comme dans le très réussi Lamentabatur Jacob' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae & other sacred music

Cinquecento’s first disc for Hyperion (Music for the Court of Maximilian II) was acclaimed as ‘a revelatory disc’ and ‘an outstanding debut recording’. Their supple, mellifluous, expressive singing was particularly praised: ‘Their voices are young, lithe, pure in intonation and warm in timbre—in short, ideal for interpreting Renaissance polyphony’ (International Record Review).

Their eagerly awaited second release presents the music of Jacob Regnart (c1540–1599) and continues their exploration of the rich repertoire which was engendered in the Hapsburg court. The centrepiece of this disc is the splendid Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae, an expansive and elaborate setting for six voices. Also included are two state motets and six sacred pieces, which demonstrate the extraordinary musical and emotional range of Regnart’s work.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In contrast to the dearth of information we have about many of even the best-known Renaissance composers, the life and activities of Jacob Regnart are comparatively well documented. The reason for this is his long and almost continuous employment in the service of the Imperial Habsburg family, the running of whose chapel establishments was meticulously noted. Regnart was also the composer of several popular collections of German songs in three parts, and the wide dissemination of his music also contributes to our knowledge of his life and works.

It is not uncommon in early modern Europe for more than one family member to join the same trade or profession: among composers one thinks of the brothers Arnold and Hugo de Lantins in the early fifteenth century, and Antoine and Robert Févin around 1500. Jacob Regnart is unusual, however, in being one of no fewer than five brothers who were all ecclesiastical musicians. Two, Charles and Pascasius, were employed by the Spanish Habsburg king, Philip II; Augustin was a canon at Lille; and the best-known other than Jacob was François, who worked at Tournai and later for the Austrian Habsburgs, and by whom numerous motets and chansons survive. Augustin published a motet collection by his brothers, to which François contributed twenty-four pieces, and Jacob ten.

The relative ages of the brothers are not known; Jacob seems likely to have been born in the early 1540s. He entered Habsburg service as early as 1557, presumably as a boy chorister, though by 1564 he was being paid the standard salary for an adult singer. Apart from a spell studying in Italy in the late 1560s, Regnart remained in Habsburg service until his death on 16 October 1599; during that time he worked under the emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II and the Archduke Ferdinand, in Vienna, Prague and Innsbruck. His publications of secular music appeared at regular intervals from the 1570s onwards, often achieving several reprints. His sacred music also was published in quantity, though some publications are lost and other works survive only in manuscript. Perhaps the most important of Regnart’s publications (in his own eyes, at least) was the series of three books of Mass settings published in 1602/3. Although these emerged posthumously, Regnart himself left an extended dedicatory preface to the emperor Rudolf II in the first volume, so it would appear that he was working on this ‘complete edition’ before his death. In it he describes himself as having served ‘for many years as Vice-Master of the [Imperial] choir’.

Regnart’s style is not dissimilar to that of his slightly older compatriot, Orlandus Lassus. Regnart and Lassus, indeed, shared numerous biographical details, both having worked as expatriate singers from a young age (Lassus in Naples), both remaining for long periods in the service of one family (Lassus at the Dukes of Bavaria in Munich), and both achieving wide recognition through their publications. The two composers were known to one another, moreover: Lassus recommended Regnart to the Saxon royal court in 1580, though Regnart did not move to Dresden. No contemporary composer matched Lassus’s output of works in different genres, though with his German songs, Italian-style villanelle, and sacred music, Regnart came closer than most. Regnart’s music can be differentiated from that of Lassus, however, by his slightly more conservative approach, showing a greater interest in working out contrapuntal ideas, whereas Lassus was increasingly pithy and concerned with the rhetorical projection of the text.

The most substantial piece on this recording is the Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae. The designation ‘super’ (‘based on’) indicates that the Mass setting uses ‘parody’ or ‘imitation’ technique, whereby musical material from an existing work is transformed to become the basis of the Mass (or of other types of works such as Magnificat settings). Regrettably, the work on which this Mass setting is based, which to judge from its title was most likely a secular motet to a Humanistic poem, is not known to have survived; the probable composer was Regnart himself. Certainly the consistent use of a head-motif to begin each new movement (other than the Agnus Dei) supports this view. It is possible that the original Oeniades Nymphae was an incidental work for a theatrical entertainment: similar material by Lassus survives from the Munich court, but as a private setting Regnart’s piece (if it was his) would have been unlikely to have been published.

The Mass setting, for six voices, is notable for its impressive control of pacing. Much as Lassus frequently did, Regnart divides his ensemble into varying groups of three or four voices, which are used antiphonally to emphasize important elements of the Mass text through varied repetition. An example occurs in the Gloria, where the words ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Tu solus Dominus. Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe’ (‘For you only are holy. You only are the Lord. You only are the most high, Jesus Christ’) are divided between upper and lower voice groups, building through a rapid and syllabic declamation of the three attributes of Jesus, before the name itself is further emphasized by being sung in doubled note values, and immediately repeated. The remainder of the Gloria text (‘Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen’—‘With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen’) is similarly subjected to repetition by varied voice groups, but in the context of a much fuller texture, delivering a suitably triumphant ending to the movement.

Another echo of Lassus’s procedures comes in the Credo, where Regnart adopts triple time for short sections such as ‘Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem [peccatorum]’ (‘I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness [of sins]’). In contrast to composers of a slightly earlier generation, it is not Regnart’s habit to write sections for heavily reduced numbers of voices such as duets and trios: partly this may have been a result of the lighter textures he favoured in the full sections. The central stretch of the Credo (‘Crucifixus … sedet ad dexteram Patris’—‘He was crucified … is seated at the right hand of the Father’) is set for four voices, however, as is the short Benedictus.

The remainder of this recording features two ‘state motets’ by Regnart, and six sacred pieces (which, however, are unlikely to have been strictly liturgical). Considering the devotional pieces first, one can observe Regnart’s skill in responding to a wide variety of religious texts. Stetit Jesus sets a passage from St Luke’s Gospel (24: 36–39) in which the risen Christ appears to the disciples and assures them of the truth of the Resurrection. The initial description of the scene is set to a vigorous motif, perhaps emphasizing the physical nature of Jesus’s presence; as is frequently the case in this period, the transition from narrative to direct speech is made by varying the style of declamation. Whereas many composers would have used homophony for direct speech, Regnart instead sets Jesus’s saying ‘Pax vobis’ (‘Peace be with you’) to an undulating motif sung in tenths between countertenor and baritone, which is then taken up and varied by other voices. Similarly, in the second half of the piece, the consternation of the disciples is expressed with rapid syncopated writing, and Jesus’s reassurance with a more placid texture in longer note values, before a vigorous final Alleluia.

The short setting of the Epiphany text Stella, quam viderant Magi is written for four closely spaced voices (a voce pari). Its chief moment of textual interest is the final representation of the Magi ‘rejoicing with great joy’, with more rapid syncopation and runs of semiquavers. Its brevity contrasts with the plainchant-based sequence motet Inviolata, which is a much more expansive work. Over twenty composers set this text during the sixteenth century, referring often to the famous setting by Josquin Desprez. (One of these, by Nicolas Gombert, is recorded—together with a reconstruction of the chant—by The Brabant Ensemble on Hyperion CDA67614.) Regnart’s motet is not so closely modelled on Josquin’s as others: it appears to have been based on a slightly different version of the plainchant melody, and more importantly contains no canonic writing. It does share much of the atmosphere of this family of works, however, due largely to the placid nature of the chant on which is it based, which moves almost exclusively by step, and in modern terms mostly outlines an F major tonality.

Perhaps the most unusual piece on this recording is the setting of Quare tristis es, anima mea? (‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?’—words from Psalm 42). The Psalm text is intended to be reassuring, but Regnart’s setting begins in a highly destabilized tonality, avoiding a full cadence for the first fifteen bars. When the piece does settle down, it nevertheless remains in an anxious Phrygian tonal area, associated with lamenting. Regnart evidently wished to emphasize the heaviness of the soul rather than the comfort of God in this case.

The two remaining sacred pieces express opposite ends of the emotional scale. Exsultent iusti appears at first to describe the rejoicing of the righteous on earth, which Regnart illustrates with rising quaver runs; the phrase ‘et delectentur in laetitia’ (‘and let them rejoice with happiness’) is particularly rich in musical representation of happiness, with dotted rhythms and alternation of, as it were, tonic and dominant harmonies. Only after this does it become apparent that it is the heavenly kingdom that is under discussion, and correspondingly the rejoicing becomes ever more decorous until the final phrase of the motet, in which the righteous find ‘eternal rest’—not an easy concept to portray musically, but the point is made by the contrast with the vigour of the piece’s opening.

Lamentabatur Jacob, the story of Jacob’s grief at the taking into captivity of his sons Joseph and Benjamin, was set most famously by the Spaniard Cristóbal de Morales, member of the Sistine Chapel choir during the 1540s. To judge from the musical qualities of Regnart’s setting, it would seem likely that he knew the motet by Morales, since Regnart uses a similar chromatic melody at the opening of his setting. Later, Regnart takes the unusual step of setting the phrase ‘ducto pro alimoniis’ (‘taken as surety’) in triple time and homophony, with funereal effect.

The state motet Ut vigilum densa silvam cingente corona is one of several dedicated to the Emperor Maximilian II (others are recorded on Cinquecento’s first Hyperion recording, CDA67579). It appears to celebrate a military victory by Maximilian, on his Eastern frontier (referring to ‘Scythian lands’, which typically meant anywhere from Eastern Europe as far as Mongolia). However, Maximilian was not particularly noted for his military success, and it seems possible that the text was intended to put a positive construction on one of several somewhat unsuccessful campaigns against the Turks during the 1560s.

Quod mitis sapiens nulli virtute secundus is supplied with a lengthy Latin subtitle indicating that it was written in honour of Johannes Trautson, whose impressive list of noble titles indicates his and his family’s long service to the Habsburgs as military leaders and counsellors. Johannes (c1507–1589) served the emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II and Rudolf II, being invested with progressively more honours throughout his career. At the time of this motet’s publication (Nuremberg, 1568) he is listed as Baron of Sprechenstein and Schronenstein, Burgrave of the Tyrol, Chamber Counsellor, and Prefect of the Supreme Court, among other decorations. The text celebrates his military achievements, appropriately maintaining a rather martial tread throughout. Finally, a ‘living crown’ is mentioned, suggesting that the occasion for the piece was Trautson’s investiture with yet another honour.

Stephen Rice © 2007

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